pennsylvania infantry

Amputation In The Civil War- Staphylococci, The Blood Stream And Death

Photograph shows portrait of Corporal Michael Dunn of Co. H, 46th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment, after the amputation of his legs in 1864, the result of injuries received in a battle near Dallas, Georgia, on May 25, 1864.

Photographed by Hope, successor to M.H. Kimball, 477 Broadway, New York.

After Antietam, for example, 22 percent of the 8,112 wounded treated in hospitals died; but after the Battle of Gettysburg one year later, only 9 percent of 10,569 died. Despite that, an editorial writer in the Cincinnati Lancet and Observer noted in September 1863 that ‘Our readers will not fail to have noticed that everybody connected with the army has been thanked, excepting the surgeons….’ Infection threatened the life of every wounded Civil War soldier, and the resulting pus produced the stench that characterized hospitals of the era. 

When the drainage was thick and creamy (probably due to staphylococci), the pus was called ‘laudable,’ because it was associated with a localized infection unlikely to spread far. Thin and bloody pus (probably due to streptococci), on the other hand, was called ‘malignant,’ because it was likely to spread and fatally poison the blood. Civil War medical data reveal that severe infections now recognized as streptococcal were common. 

One of the most devastating streptococcal infections during the war was known as ‘hospital gangrene.’ When a broken bone was exposed outside the skin, as it was when a projectile caused the wound, the break was termed a ‘compound fracture.’ If the bone was broken into multiple pieces, it was termed a ‘comminuted fracture’; bullets and artillery shells almost always caused bone to fragment. Compound, comminuted fractures almost always resulted in infection of the bone and its marrow (osteomyelitis). 

The infection might spread to the blood stream and cause death, but even if it did not, it usually caused persistent severe pain, with fever, foul drainage, and muscle deterioration. Amputation might save the soldier’s life, and a healed stump with a prosthetic limb was better than a painful, virtually useless limb, that chronically drained pus. Antisepsis and asepsis were adopted in the decades following the war, and when penicillin became available late in World War II, the outlook for patients with osteomyelitis improved.

U.S. soldiers of Pennsylvania’s 28th Infantry Division march along the Champs Elysees, the Arc de Triomphe in the background, on Aug. 29, 1944, four days after the liberation of Paris.
All periods of my wartime service had to do with grisly combat with the exception of an experience which place me on a United States Postal three-cent stamp.
On 27 August 1944 my regiment, the 110Th Infantry of the 28Th Division, was located at Versailles, France. We were ordered to march directly through Paris to fight on the far side. (The French 2nd Armored division had already cleared the city.) On the night of 28 August, we moved into Paris in drenching rain and prepared for the “parade” through town the next day, 29 August.
This parade through Paris marked one of the high points of our regimental history. We formed near the Bois do Boulogne and marched twenty-four abreast down the Avenue Foch by the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de L-Etoile, architectural hub of the city; then down the Champs Elysees de to the Place de la Concorde.
Thousands of citizens thronged the streets on this occasion, for it was the official celebration of the liberation of Paris. General De Gaulle, representing the French forces, and Generals Bradley and Hodges, together with our division commander, General Cota, representing the Americans, reviewed the division. The reviewing stand, boasting the tri-color of France as well as the Stars and Stripes, was set up at the Place de la Concords, the whole an impressive background for the solemn but triumphant occasion.
As the troops approached the reviewing stand the 28Th Division Band struck up, amidst the cheers and shouts of “Vive L'Amerique!” Correspondents from all over the world were on hand to record details of the event, and cameramen scrambled for advantageous positions from which to take pictures.
Of the latter, one in particular was to become famous: A U.S. three-cent postage stamp was issued showing our regiment marching down the Champs Elysees with the Arc de Triumphe towering in the background. I was marching in the center front row, my head turned facing the reviewing stand as we passed by. The original photograph from which the stamp’s engraving was made came from a two-page photo in Life Magazine published shortly after the event.
The Parisians, who crowded the streets to cheer for these, the first American troops to march through the city in World War II, showered flowers, fruit and bottles of Cognac on the un-protesting soldiers; jumped into vehicles to shake hands with the occupants; urged their pretty French patriots to kiss as many of the grinning G. I. ’s as the willing traffic would bear; and finally, linked arms with their U. S. Allies and marched exuberantly to the far edges of the city. Whatever has been recorded in the book of international relations before or since, the march through Paris offered a chapter of amity and good will, which, if continued, might have marked a new era in the diplomatic age.
Twenty miles outside of Paris, four men who were in the front row of the photo were killed in action.
Note added by his son: My father was awarded the French Croix de Guerre medal for action in Colmar, France; capturing 110 German soldiers, taking a town, and an important bridge with 20 of his men.

My father was later wounded in the Herken Forest. He was awarded the Purple Heart and two Bronze Stars.

Vivid Memory of World War II Service
by Lt. Colonel James Wise Kitchen
United States Army